When I ditched diet culture and started practicing Intuitive Eating (IE) a few years ago, I would have guessed that my biggest challenge would come in the form of a dessert buffet or magnificent, bottomless bowl of pasta. Little did I know that “honoring my fullness” with a plate of cacio e pepe made of my hopes and dreams was nothing compared to the struggle of eating intuitively while working from home.
I started off thrilled at the newfound freedom of feeding myself at home. No more sad cold cuts from the Subway near the office! The possibilities were endless! Why, I could bake cookies in the middle of the work day if I wanted to! I could eat anything I wanted at home! I could cook! By god, I could MEAL PREP! But that enthusiasm was short-lived. Eventually, I would find myself slumped over my laptop bleary-eyed in the same yoga pants I’d been wearing for three days wondering why I was so tired. What time was it? Oh, it’s 3:30pm. Did I eat today? Is that granola bar wrapper from this morning, or yesterday? Have I had any water, or was that cup of coffee the only thing I have consumed today? Is this now? Is time a flat circle? Have I ever questioned the nature of my reality? Oh god, am I a host?! IS THIS WESTWORLD WHAT IS HAPPENING.
The world is a fucking mess right now. People are dying from coronavirus all over the world, and in the United States, we’re watching the fire slowly spread. Those of us who are privileged enough to do so have started working from home until the pandemic stops being so pandemic-y. I also switched to working from home full-time again to keep myself and other safe from the virus and to “flatten the curve” and all that. (I had previously been going to the office two days per week.) There’s no welcome committee for the remote workforce, no honorary pair of stained sweatpants bestowed upon you, so here is my small offering to those stepping into remote work for the first time: a short guide to feeding yourself when you’re working remotely.
1. Build a routine
This is probably the #1 tip in every single article written about working from home, but that’s because it’s an absolute truth that you will lose your goddamn mind without some sort of routine when you work from home. But it’s also true of food. And if you’re transitioning to working from home full-time, or struggling to remember to feed yourself while working remotely, you’re going to need a routine.
I know, I know. Are you truly listening to your hunger cues if you’re having breakfast because, well, it’s morning and people eat breakfast in the morning? Isn’t that antithetical to Intuitive Eating? The answer is simple: no. It’s not. In fact, it’s perfectly common for people are just starting to eating intuitively (especially after treatment for an eating disorder) to use food plans at first, to help get their minds and bodies into the rhythm of eating regularly again. You don’t just magically start recognizing hunger cues and honoring your fullness because you decide to, it’s usually something you’ve got to ease into. And when you’re working from home, it’s important to remember that all external cues are gone. Your coworkers aren’t getting coffee, munching on muffins from Starbucks, or getting up to grab lunch. You’re not going to smell Steve’s leftovers or Karen’s Lean Cuisine and go, “Oh! It’s lunch time!” Your normal routines are going to be flipped sideways and upside down, so building a new routine is imperative.
The beauty of working from home is that you have the luxury to design your own routine. For instance, I’m not much of a breakfast-eater. Because I have GERD and wake up semi-nauseous on a good day, I’m typically not interested in eating a single crumb until mid-morning. So, I generally grab coffee or tea when I first get up, and stop around 10:30am or 11am to grab something to eat. I eat lunch a little bit later than most (around 2:30pm or 3pm) and my husband and I will tackle dinner together after he gets home and mourns seeing me in pants with buttons.
You may need to play around with this to find the routine that works best for you. But listen here: a general routine around food is going to help you get to a point where you can work remotely without forgetting that you are a human being who needs food to live. Even if you need to set an alarm for yourself to remind you to eat if you haven’t by a certain time, do it. Time-chunk that shit right into your Google calendar. You are human, and you need to eat!
2. Keep your kitchen stocked with stuff you will actually prepare and eat
With the freedom to literally eating anything while working from home, you might feel the urge to get ambitious. I sure did! I was going to make beautiful avocado toast and build sandwiches so delectable I’d get my own show in The Food Network. But within the first week, most of the avocados I bought turned to brown mush and my sandwich fixins rotted in my fridge. And I had to face hard truths about myself, which is that I do not understand how to tell when an avocado is ripe but not overripe, and that I will never, ever be the type of person who cooks in the middle of the workday. And furthermore, when I am overwhelmed with work (which does not stop when I am working from home), the thought of going into the kitchen and making myself something as simple as a PB&J can be feel too complicated so I will just keep sitting at my laptop and being hungry instead. Sometimes, when I am hungry and working from home, and all I have in my kitchen is ingredients, I get so frustrated I could weep.
So, I had to get real about what worked for me, and let go of my Food Network ambition. I stopped aspirational grocery shopping and stocked my kitchen with easy-assembly and no-assembly foods I could fit into my actual workday. That means things like granola bars, trail mix, nuts, dried fruit, and yeah, some chips and cookies and other nibbly things because those are also food and totally valid ways to feed yourself. Breakfast is often a cup of coffee and a 2-pack of Fig Netwons. Sometimes I leave a container of nuts and trail mix right on my desk so it’s within arm’s reach if I get hungry. I have microwave meals in the freezer (have you even tried Trader Joe’s Indian meals?!), cans of soup, and other minimal-effort-required meals stocked up when I’m working from home. I also keep some fresh fruit like apples and bananas on-hand, they’re easy to grab, keep me going, and can be eaten at my desk.
The most elaborate I will ever get for breakfast is instant oatmeal or cutting up some hard-boiled eggs on a piece of toast. (And we buy the pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs that come in bags around these parts, thankyouverymuch.)
Keep it simple and easy and realistic. Keep things on-hand to graze on, and keep them around your desk. Just because you can pause in the middle of the workday and make a delicious veggie hash in your favorite cast-iron skillet does not mean that you will. And that’s okay! Just don’t get stuck in the trap of feeling like you should do x, y, or z regarding food, and allow that to keep you from eating.
3. Keep a variety of foods you like on hand
I know this is economically privileged. But if you’re working from home, well, you probably have some degree of privilege, right? So, I get it, I see it, but I’m still recommending this to anyone who has the means to have a relatively stocked kitchen. Don’t box yourself in to eating anything specific for any meal when you work from home. Give yourself the gift of variety!
Part of eating intuitively is listening to what you want. You may have had every intention of eating a sandwich with the deli meat that’s about to go bad for lunch, but if you don’t want it, don’t force yourself. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up just 86’ing the idea of lunch altogether if lunch sounds awful and unappealing. Keep a variety of staple meals and foods in your kitchen that you can eat depending in what you feel like having in that moment. Sometimes peeling myself off my office chair and going to make myself a meal is really as simple as having the promise of something I actually want to eat if I get up. Keep things you like to eat in your kitchen. Live according to the Special Agent Dale Cooper Rule of Daily Presents.
4. Eat leftovers
Okay, so meal-prepping is not my thing, because I am simply not that sort of person. I don’t have white couches, white carpets, and I do not meal prep. I cannot change this. However, one important thing to keep in mind about meal prep is that it’s basically a whole fucking lifestyle that has cropped up around a very simple concept: LEFTOVERS.
My husband and I tend to cook dinner at night, as in, an actual, honest-to-goodness, motherfucking MEAL. I’m hardly the Barefoot Contessa but I can make a mean bowl of pasta, a meatloaf, a lasagna, and various other intermediate-level stuff. I have a few staple recipes (probably about 10-12) that I cycle through every couple of weeks and can more or less make on autopilot. Now, something I have done since I was young, single and living on a prayer in my illegal basement apartment in Baltimore is portioning out whatever I would cook for dinner into a container for later. And if you cook at all, I cannot recommend this enough.
Let say you make this Mexican tortilla casserole, which is one of my favorite base recipes to tweak based on whatever is days away from turning to slime in my fridge. (It’s really easy, but season it more than this recipe tells you to!) Eat it that night, and then grab a Tupperware container, and put a few portions in the fridge. GUESS WHAT, YOU JUST MEAL-PREPPED.
And you have a delicious casserole to heat up for lunch tomorrow, or the day after, that requires no more effort than sticking it in the microwave. I like to make a slightly more ambitious meal on Sunday nights, and slopping some leftovers into a few containers can mean I’ve got lunch for Monday and Tuesday. And depending on what you make, if you don’t want your leftovers in the next day or so, no problem! Stick them in the freezer and try to remember to eat them at some point in the next few months.
5. Leave your house occasionally (but with caution, because pandemic)
So, I know, we’re supposed to be practicing SOCIAL DISTANCING! That’s the whole reason we’re working from home! But, look, unless you’re sick, you can still leave your house. Social distancing and quarantine are different! Don’t go to a crowded club and grind on strangers, don’t go to Golden Corral and eat food from the buffet covered in spittle from people who may be infectious, don’t run around and sneeze on everyone you meet. Be judicious. Be contentious. But you can, I swear to god, leave your house.
And if you’re working from home, you may have to at some point, for your own mental health.
Look, lots of restaurants are doing curbside pick-up during the pandemic. If you need to get out of the house, and nothing looks good in your kitchen, go out and get something. It’ll be fine! Just try to patronize a local spot that’s trying to survive when people are afraid to leave their houses and don’t do this if you have any symptom of COVID-19. And tip the people who make and bring you your food generously. Under normal circumstances, making time once a week to leave the house and grab some food in the middle of the day is one of my key recommendations, but obviously that needs to be modified slightly for these dangerous times.
6. Drink fluids
I swear to you, I hate the Hydration Police. I hate being told to drink water. And that’s because our bodies have developed an entire system of telling us when to drink water called THIRST and most of us do not need some asshole online telling us to drink when we’re thirsty. But just like food, hydration can fall by the wayside when you’re working from home. So, just get yourself a big insulated cup, fill it with water or your beverage of choice in the morning, and keep it at your desk so you’ll remember to drink at some point in your day. Because that’s also a thing that is surprisingly easy to forget when you’re standing at the precipice of the WFH abyss.
That’s it, folks! Those are my tips. Be safe and Slack wisely out there.